Depersonalize and Let a Listing Shine

Real Estate Sales Tips

You’ll increase the odds of your investment attracting attention when it’s more neutral—clean, uncluttered, light, gender-neutral and fresh smelling.


Maria Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has made her mantra of getting organized and neat an inspiration to those eager to declutter and live life more fully. But the tenets she and others espouse also make sense for de-personalizing a listing, so it looks its best for resale.


Amie Pettengill | Real Estate Sales Tips

Amie Pettengill, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lexington, Mass.

Skilled real estate salespeople, stagers, and investment gurus all have become pros at creating the right balance in a room. Their main strategy is to keep enough furnishings, accessories, and art intact to make the house look livable but not so much that they come off as crowded and overly personalized. In those cases, it can be hard to see a mantel with so many framed photos atop it or assess counter space when five small appliances sit cheek-to-jowl and every possible utensil seems to be on display. Similarly, you don’t want rooms so spare—only one chair to indicate a seating space—since the immediate effect may be cold. Anybody who walks in will wonder who would want to live there?


Amie Pettengill, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Lexington, Mass., believes the first rule of thumb is not to make a listing stand out but do the opposite, which may seem counter-intuitive. “You want to make your home attractive to any buyer, so they can imagine themselves living in your home,” she says. Keep in mind that the buyer may be someone who may live there full- or part-time or could be an investor who purchases it to rent or resell. Here are many of her additional tips, as well as suggestions from other experts:


1. Go outside. Start with the key factor of curb appeal since first impressions count. In fact, the average buyer is said to decide within the first 10 seconds whether they want to see the rest of the house, so your yard needs to be immaculate. What’s that mean? If it’s winter, snow should be cleared with a clean path to all doors. In the summer, the lawn should be cut, with no weeds in sight. In the fall, leaves should be removed. Make sure you also take care of the garage, she advises.  If possible, park your vehicles at another location when you show the house, which allows buyers to picture the garage as they would use it with plenty of storage space.  Of course, that assumes you’ve cleaned out the garage rather than made it a dumping ground for everything you took out of interior rooms and closets! Pettengill also stages the front door with a coat of fresh paint and decorates it for the season at hand.


2. Clean, clean, clean!  Seems pretty basic. It is, but it is essential.  Floors should be swept and mopped, carpets vacuumed, windows washed, moldings dusted and grout refreshed rather than dark and grimy, says Pettengill. From the foyer, to the kitchen, to the bathrooms, the entire house must sparkle just as a hotel room would. Looking tired and old doesn’t show well.




3. Clear, clear, clear! No clutter should be seen, which means countertops cleared except for maybe a few items—no more than three. “The overall feeling should be that the room doesn’t feel quite comfortable as your home since it’s so much more neutral and less taste-specific. You should feel you’ve stepped into a magazine,” she says. Furniture should be arranged in a manner that emphasizes the space and allows for easy flow as buyers move from room to room.  Instead of a crowded seating group with sofa, multiple chairs, side tables and stacks of books, magazines and objects on a coffee table, consider the family’s size who might live in the home. If it’s a two-bedroom house, have chairs for four. For a five bedroom, have a big sofa and more seating but always easy walk-through patterns, Pettengill says.


4. Empty closets. Storage is at the top of wish lists, yet often closets and pantries get overlooked when preparing a home for sale. After cleaning, organizing and decluttering closets, showcase potential storage by packing away two-thirds of the contents, says Pettengill. This will show your buyer that you have ample space. Use hangars that are the same. The same rule should guide you with bookcases, which often are filled end to end. Better to have only a few rows and stacks and a lot of empty space. More room for buyers to add their favorites.



5. Paint neutral where needed. If any paint is starting to wear or crack or if you have bold, vibrant colors on your walls, a new coat of paint in a neutral color may be in order. Neutrals allow buyers to imagine their tastes and belongings in each room. Don’t worry that rooms must be white if you consider that too anti-septic. There are a wide range of neutrals that appeal, from, yes, different shades of white to creams, beiges, grays and even pale blues and greens. Now is not the time to use the popular black, however, Pettengill says, since it shows dirt and dust.


6. Go gender neutral, too. You want your staging to appeal both to a male and female buyer so find a neutral middle ground without going too bland or boring, says Anne Flanagan of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties. Color selection and the size of your furniture and mirrors and art work also should play into making rooms appeal to both genders, she says.


7. Remove pets…temporarily. More and more home owners love their pets; we know that by the American Pet Products Association’s annual calculations, which in 2016 hit $62.75 billion. But that doesn’t mean buyers or renters will necessarily love yours, as well as their odors and fur. If you have pets, make sure to keep them elsewhere during showings and remove pet odors in advance, Pettengill says.  You want to keep the focus on the house, not your furry friends.  Plus, you never know if potential buyers will be nervous around them or allergic.



8. Brighten rooms. Clean, bright spaces are appealing and make rooms look larger, newer, fresher. In this case we’re talking about rooms that are well-lit. Take advantage of all-natural light by opening all curtains and blinds and removing some if they are dated or if they camouflage windows and views. Be sure bulbs work and turn on all lights, not just those in major rooms but closets, a basement and attic, and the outdoor lights in case anyone visits or drives by at night. A well-lit house is more inviting and shows buyers you have nothing to hide, Pettengill says. In some rooms, such as the dining room, you may want to dim lights for romantic ambience.


9. Remove photographs, family curios and highly personal collections. You don’t want buyers to focus on what you own and what your grandparents looked like. Better for them to remember your gorgeous remodeled kitchen’s stainless-steel appliances or your home’s gleaming floorboards. To add in some personal cachet with wide appeal—but not too much—consider one great modern artwork, a few colorful pillows, one area rug atop the well-maintained floorboards and your nice-sized deck with table and chairs to entertain outdoors. Leave off the cutesy table setting since it will look forced or fake.


10. Add joy. Though it’s hard to define and translate, potential buyers want to feel joy when they step into a home, whether for themselves or an investment. Pettengill tries to help achieve this by playing some appropriate music on apps like Spotify and Pandora when she shows a home. “It allows people to look and study it to see what’s there. There doesn’t have to be talk all the time,” she says.

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